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When We All Were Artists

Cave Painting

The artists who created the ancient cave paintings didn’t have societal hang ups about whether they were “Artists” or not.  They had a powerful desire to create lasting visions of their world, and as simple as those drawings may seem, they strike a chord in us of powerful ancestral memories, more deeply meaningful than any artifact we could unearth.  They convey to us some echo of what we imagine was seen and felt by those humans about those animals during those ancient times.

The Hunters, by Kim McElroy

Many of us have forgotten that we once understood the language of art and we knew how to use it for our own curiosity and questions about our inner and outer worlds.  We have relegated art to the realm of the talented, the privileged, the trained, and the successful.  Art has become a commodity to be bought and sold.  But in our earliest human origins it was once simply a form of communication.

In our society we are so much defined by what we do in life.  Our identity is wrapped up with our social status, our skills, our career, or our role in other people’s lives as parent, spouse, sibling, child, friend, boss, employee, and the extended roles of the society in which we live, the type of food we eat, our beliefs, etc.  Yet before all that became – us – beyond who we define ourselves as – there are layers upon layers of us that inform who we are.   However, so many of us stop ourselves from creating art, because the role of “artist” has attained its own societal definitions.

The Oxford Dictionary additionally defines artist as: •    A learned person or Master of Arts •    One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry •    A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice •    A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic •    One who makes their craft a fine art •    One who cultivates one of the fine arts – traditionally the arts presided over by the muses

Also copied here is an excerpt from an interesting article  that I think captures what the current worldview considers as the definition of an artist:

“… art is forever manifesting itself in new forms, since there are forever new personalities – its essence can never alter, I believe. Perhaps I am wrong. But speaking for myself, I know that I have no programme, only the unaccountable longing to grasp what I see and feel, and to find the purest means of expression for it.” ~ Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

The function of bridging the gap between our idiosyncratic, private languages and a more universal one was relegated to a group of special individuals called artists. Theirs is the job to experience (mostly emotions) and to mould their experience into the grammar, syntax and vocabulary of a universal language in order to communicate to us the echo of their idiosyncratic language. They are forever mediating between us and their experience. Rightly so, the quality of an artist is measured by his ability to loyally represent his unique language to us. The smaller the distance between the original experience (the emotion of the artist) and its external representation, the more prominent the artist.

We declare artistic success when the universally communicable representation succeeds at recreating and evoking in us the original emotion (felt by the artist). It is very much like teleportation which allows, in sci-fi yarns, for the decomposition of the astronaut’s body in one spot and its recreation, atom for atom in another.

Even if the artist fails to faithfully recreate his inner world, but succeeds in calling forth any kind of emotional response in his viewers/readers/listeners, he is deemed successful.

Every artist has a reference group, his audience. They could be alive or dead (for instance, he could measure himself against past artists). They could be few or many, but they must be present for art, in its fullest sense, to exist. Modern theories of art speak about the audience as an integral and defining part of artistic creation and even of the artefact itself.

But this, precisely, is the source of the dilemma of the artist:

Who is to determine who is a good, qualitative artist and who is not?

Willow Wind, by Kim McElroy

All of these definitions require the assumption that one is only considered an artist if this role is defined by other persons considering that one is qualified to call oneself an artist.  What if, as human beings with opposable thumbs, curiosity, ego, conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds, and above all – spirit, we are naturally, inherently given the capacity and capability to be an artist?  If there was no definition for being an artist other than to define that state as: “one who uses creative manifestation to express internal and external experiences”.  Whether anyone in the world but the artist ever sees or likes or dislikes that creation is beside the point.  We are all artists, if we give ourselves permission to create.

Horses by Kim McElroy – Childhood Drawing

Pick up a box of colors, and remember what it was to be a young child.  What is inside you that wants to be expressed?  Sometimes you won’t know until you put the color to paper.  A child doesn’t edit themselves, or stop themselves from creating.  They don’t need a parent or their peers to determine whether their house, or their tree, or their sun is good enough.  They don’t say “I can only draw stick figures”.  They don’t get frustrated if their drawing isn’t the way they see it in their imagination.  It is simply self expression.

Yet the other important aspect of creating art, is sharing it with a supportive audience, even an audience of just one other person.  Art is to be witnessed, and the seeing of it by another, allows the artist to feel the circle of communication is complete.

One of the reasons I teach art, and one of the most rewarding moments in each workshop is when I witness the participants putting color to paper again for the first time, and watching them lose themselves in the creation.  Watching the child in them, remember….

Secrets of Drawing Horses DVD with Kim McElroy

Enjoy my philosophies and instruction on how to remember your artistic self in my DVD, “Secrets of Drawing Horses ~ Level 1” purchase here

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